Scottie Pippen and a Reflection on Fame

November 2nd, 2014

October 31st is always Halloween and this year it was also the date of the Chicago Bulls home opener against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The sold out crowd was electric the entire night. Whether it was cheering for a play to happen or for a play that just happened, the twenty-three thousand plus fans exploded in clapping and shouting at every chance. Midway through the game though, the fans weren’t cheering for the action on the court, but for the image on the Jumbotron.

Scottie Pippen is a legend in Chicago. Owner of six NBA championships with Michael Jordan in the 90’s, he is a Hall of Famer and one of the fifty best players in NBA history. Being Scottie Pippen isn’t like being anybody else. When an average person finds themselves on the big screen at a sporting event, they just as often don’t notice as they do jump out of their seat. The way it worked for Scottie Pippen on Halloween night was different though. The cameras turned to Scottie while he was in his seat watching the action and his image was displayed on the Jumbotron. The United Center went nuts for the Chicago hero, the fans clapping and cheering their hearts out. If Chicago Bulls fans starting cheering their heads off, most people would look at the court to see why. When that failed, they would look at the Jumbotron to see what everyone else was cheering about. They wouldn’t look at the Jumbotron expecting to see their face as the reason for the cheering. But none of us are Scottie Pippen. Except Scottie Pippen. So when he looked up at the Jumbotron to see what was the cheering for, he half-expected to see himself. When he realized he was right, he smiled and waved to the fans. They’ve shown video of a guy eating an entire meal on a Jumbotron, completely oblivious the whole time that he’s on the big screen. It must be a very unique thing to be famous. While the rest of us are looking to find the action, the famous know that more often than not, they’re the reason for the cheering and the screams. Mr. Hot Dog, keeps his eye on his food, and Scottie Pippin just looks up, smiles and waves. What a different way of seeing the world fame must bring.

The Man Time Forgot – Ole Einar Bjoerndalen Gets Gold

February 9th, 2014

When casual fans talk about the Winter Olympics they bring up the Biathlon, incredulous at this sport that combines Cross Country Skiing and Shooting. When Winter Olympics enthusiasts discuss the Games, they say the name Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. Norway’s 40 year old hero has now medaled in five Olympic Games and added his 12th Olympic medal to his legacy, incredibly his 7th Gold Medal.

This was the Men’s 10k Sprint event with 10,000 meters of cross country skiing and two shooting stations, a prone and a standing shoot of five targets each. Among the top ten finishers there were only four penalties (for a missed shot) taken among one hundred shots. It was an astoundingly clean shooting night for the top finishers, but one of those who missed was actually Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. This forty year old man, this untouchable champion, many years older than most of his competitors, was so fast on his skis that despite his penalty lap he left the field behind to tie his countryman Bjorn Daehlie with 12 all time Olympic Winter Games medals, the most of all time. Bjoerndalen is now also the oldest individual Gold Medal winner in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

Kings of the Long Skate

February 9th, 2014

At the Adler Arena on a 400 meter oval of pearly white ice the best long track speed skaters in the world battle for Gold. In these distance events, you race against the clock and not the person on the ice next to you. It takes patience, focus, self-awareness and incredible talent. Historically, the Dutch honor this event in their home country like no other and historically they dominate these events accordingly. The distance the Netherlands hoped to lock down today was the 5,000 meters and they fielded a strong team led by the World Record holder and reigning Olympic champion Sven Kramer.

In Vancouver in 2010 Kramer experienced both amazing triumph and crushing disappointment. He won Gold early in the Games in the 5,000 meter and then with a huge lead and little ice left between him and another Gold Medal in the 10,000 meter event, a coaching error caused Kramer to skate into the wrong lane and he was disqualified. It was heartbreak on the Olympic stage, but a champion like Kramer didn’t let it affect him long. Since 2010 he has secured his position as the dominant force in long track speed skating and he came to Sochi with his expectations and the entire nation of the Netherlands set on more Gold.

He started the race with split times slightly off the pace of Russian Denis Yuskov who came out blazing hot with lap times in the mid 28s range. By the mid point in the race though, Kramer overtook the Russian through sheer consistency in his lap times. He built and built his lead and posted an Olympic Record and an extremely challenging time for the final three pairs to overcome. None of them did. Kramer cruised to Gold with absolute power and confidence built on the consistency of his lap times. With Dutch royalty in the stands to celebrate him, Kramer watched from the tunnels under the main floor as two of his countrymen, Jan Blokhuijsen and Jorrit Bergsma, took Silver and Bronze respectively. It was a sweep for the Netherlands in their favorite and most prideful sport of Long Track Speed Skating. This made their Olympics and they’ve only just begun.

What a Finish! – The Ladies Skiathlon

February 8th, 2014

The Ladies Skiathlon was formally known as The Pursuit which says it all about the format. The athletes are lined up, rows deep, based on world rankings. 40 of the worlds best female cross country skiers compete over a total of 15km, half in the Classic style and then the Free to see who finishes first, fastest, and in Gold Medal time.

The Scandinavian countries have long dominated the cross country events and Norway and Sweden led the pack in this event as well. For the majority of the 7.5km Classic portion of the race, things were tight, at most a minute separated the greater bulk of the racers but as the competitors changed skis for the second half Free style, those Ladies vying for a medal were carved down to only six. Among these six were three Norwegians, a Finn, a Pole, and Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla (Gold Medalist in the 10k Freestyle in Vancouver).

There was a small amount of jockeying for position but the Norwegians held the top three spots as they moved through the third lap with Justyna Kowalczyk from Poland, a four time medalist, struggling to maintain the pace. On the fourth lap, top ranked Therese Johaug made a push on the long last climb but didn’t get the separation she would need for the sprint but the field did separate when Charlotte Kalla picked her spot later on that same climb to dart into the lead at the perfect moment, moving further ahead with every push.

But three time Gold Medalist and Norwegian Cross Country hero Marit Bjorgen marked Kalla and wouldn’t allow the race to end on this uphill. She cranked and stroked and put herself even with Kalla for the 200m sprint for Gold.

There is nothing in the sport of cross country skiing as exciting as the sprint to the finish. There were 200m of flat snow between these two great athletes and a Gold Medal. Like lithe industrial pistons, Kalla and Bjorgen threw their slender poles high into the air and pumped, pushed, and drove themselves forward at incredible speed towards glory. It was clear within a moment who the winner would be. With incredible timing, strength and skill, the champion Marit Bjorgen brought joy to all of Norway by bringing her country its first Gold Medal of these Olympic Winter Games and her fourth career Gold Medal (eight Medal overall). Kalla threw her poles high in the air in celebration as she crossed the finish line 1.8 seconds behind Bjorgen winning a Silver for Sweden. The Medal podium was rounded out 13.2 seconds by Norwegian Heidi Weng, a true statement for Cross Country loving Norway.

The excitement of Cross Country continues today with the Men’s 10k Biathlon, our favorite combination of skiing and shooting the world over. Keep an eye on Norway there as well.

The Olympic Winter Games, Sochi 2014

February 7th, 2014

The XXII Olympic Winter Games have officially begun. Man, it feels good to be back! It’s been only about a year and a half since the Summer Olympics in London but it’s been a full four years since we last hit the slopes and shaved the ice with the world’s best Winter athletes in Vancouver. Last nights’ coverage on NBC didn’t begin with the Opening Ceremonies but with two new events that heralded in what promises to be another amazing Games.

Slopestyle snowboarding is an event that takes place on a snowboard park recognizable to anyone who’s hit their local slopes, but exponentially more challenging: higher, faster, and with three towering jumps. Individual athletes cruise through this world class crafted terrain park hitting tricks as they fly downwards. It’s a judged event and if the qualifiers showed anything, they showed that it’s an event to watch.

The other new event that debuted on night one was Figure Skating Team. This event combines the four disciplines of ice skating: Men’s, Ladies’, Pair, and Ice Dancing. The scores are put together based on the relative finishes in the individual events for a team total that determines medal places. Using this event as a predictor of who to watch you have to look at Yuzuru Hanyu in the male category. He is the most graceful skater in the competition and he carries all the power of the former Gold Medalist, Russian Evgeni Plushenko. In the pairs, it was Russian duo Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov as Cinderella and Prince Charming who owned the night with their sheer power, charisma, and execution.

New events and old will combine at these 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi Russia to make two weeks of the most exciting competition in the world. The world has come to Russia, unifying to celebrate world culture and athletic achievement for all to see. Again as before, Let the Games Begin!

Nature vs. Perfect

January 16th, 2013

This American Life episode #483, “Self-Improvement Kick” aired on Public Radio on January 4th, 2013.  The opening sequence of the episode follows a young woman, Julia Lurie, who is teaching English at an all-girls high school in South Korea.  Through Julia’s interview with Ira Glass and from recordings in her classroom, we learn that South Korea is one of the world leaders in cosmetic surgery and that her South Korean students face significant social pressure to alter their appearance towards a Korean ideal of physical features.  Eyelids, cheekbones, breasts, skin color; all are fair game for alterations in Korean culture.  Julia’s discussion with her class turned towards the debate over whether beauty lies in the natural or in conforming to an ideal. 

In our well-developed societies, we feel an inevitable pull towards nature despite our constant progress (sea-spray scented shampoo, yule log TV program, organic food).  But do we also have an obligation as a species to push ourselves to the absolute brink of progress?  It was thought that the four minute mile was a milestone that would never be crossed.  Athletes have been using performance enhancing drugs for years, trying to gain an edge on their competition, but weren’t they also pushing the envelope of what we could accomplish as humans?  We have schools because we are not content to wander this world in a state of perfect discovery.  We have division of labor so that we can dedicate ourselves most efficiently to a job in our best skillset.  There is no rest to be found in progress, because progress is kinetic, it’s momentum, it’s evolving.  So much as we are pulled into this world of constant achievement, many of us hold back and lean towards a life that strives to commune with and be a part of nature.  The question that inevitably follows this line of thinking is, aren’t we natural?  This debate doesn’t come to a division of whether one way of life is natural or not.  This is a question of values.  Can we be satisfied with anything less than the best?  Can we appreciate the satisfaction we find in accepting less than an ideal?  This is the great question.  For me, I’ll take my progress in steps and look for satisfaction in the pauses.

(that’s Henry David Thoreau…I never read Walden, but there he is nontheless)

London 2012 – The Fall and Rise of Michael Phelps, a Prediction

July 30th, 2012

On Saturday, Michael Phelps failed to defend his Gold Medal in the 400 IM.  He fell to fourth place and watched his teammate and rival Ryan Lochte steal his crown and destroy the field.  Phelps met with Andrea Kremer after the race and seemed hard hit by the loss and his inability to medal.  He talked about going into the race with the wrong plan and he looked anywhere but at the camera or at the reporter asking him questions.  He seemed to the world to have slipped, if not fallen altogether.

And then on Sunday, Phelps rose again.  In the final of the 4×100 Free Relay, Phelps swam the second leg and blew open a full body length lead (all six feet and four inches worth) on the rest of the field.  While Lochte couldn’t hold the lead his team had built through the anchor leg, the last 100 meters of the race, Phelps burned through the pool with the fire of a champion and gave the Americans the strong leg they needed to secure a Silver Medal.

Michael Phelps is the greatest competitive swimmer in the history of the world.  And this is the prediction that will prove true over the next two weeks: Michael Phelps isn’t done yet, 3 more Gold Medals are on their way.

Keep watching.

London 2012 – The Opening Ceremonies

July 27th, 2012

The torch is lit so let the Games begin.  London began the Opening Ceremony with the images of an English idyll and finished them with the ideal of British talent, Sir Paul McCartney.  The world’s most amazing athletes from nations small and large have joined together in one of the most storied city’s in history to celebrate the best of athletic competition.  The Olympics are always amazing and these Games of the Thirtieth Olympiad are full of promise.  In front of the next astounding two weeks, it bears repeating, “Let the Games begin!”

Harvey Weinstein Owns the Oscars

March 1st, 2012

Ever since a wave of gift baskets turned the tide of the 1998 Academy Awards*, Harvey Weinstein has proved himself to be the King of the Oscars.  Manipulating a score of Awards nominations has driven millions of extra viewers and extra dollars towards Miramax and Weinstein Company films over the years.  You may not like his tactics, but it’s impossible to argue the results.  We’ll get to the results, but first let’s talk about those tactics that have really pissed off the average fan over the years and brought down a variety of rules changes on campaigning from The Academy itself.

Meryl Streep won her third Academy Award this past Sunday for her performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 2012 film The Iron Lady.  Wait a minute?  This movie came out on January 13th, 2012…then why did she win Best Actress for the 2011 Academy Awards?  This is where Harvey Weinstein comes in.  The Iron Lady was a stinker, nobody liked it and outside of Meryl Streep turning in another great, great performance and it was a disaster at the domestic box office.  But if Meryl Streep is nominated for an Oscar, let alone if she wins, it will mean huge amounts of extra revenue in extended box office life and DVD sales.   This is what Harvey Weinstein thought and that is exactly what has happened.  According to and, the film didn’t have a wide release until January 13, 2012.  There was a limited release to four theaters on December 30th, 2011, which still wouldn’t qualify this film for the 2011 Academy Awards.  According to the Academy’s Rules of Eligibility the film needs to have a paid theatrical run to the public of at least seven consecutive days in Los Angeles County prior to December 31st, 2011.  While Weinstein made this run happen in time, this is hardly in keeping with the spirits of the 2011 Academy Awards.  Allowing this tactic to succeed shows the elitist bent of the Academy and shows that they don’t care whether the viewers, who pay the money to profit the films and finance the awards shows actually have a chance to see the film in the year it is being rewarded for.  This is unjust and infuriating.  There is a disconnect between what the people deserve from the Academy Awards and what Harvey Weinstein is willing to do to increase his return on investment.

*Now back to those gift baskets I mentioned.  With full page ads in Variety and gift baskets of swag sent to the right Academy members, Harvey Weinstein managed to fight aginst the public’s opinion to force a surprise Best Picture win for his film Shakespeare in Love over Steven Spielberg’s moving, character driven war film, Saving Private Ryan.  This should have never happened.  That makes two big black eyes for The Academy when it comes to Harvey Weinstein.  Disgusting.

But to be fair, Harvey Weinstein is a genius.  He provides a major channel for the release of foreign films in the U.S. in addition to his long-standing relationships with Woody Allen and Quinten Tarantino.  Here are some of the best of what he’s distrubuted through Miramax and The Weinstein Co.: My Left Foot, The Grifters, Reservoir Dogs, The Piano, Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Il Postino, Sling Blade, Trainspotting, The English Patient, Swingers, Good Will Hunting, Air Bud: Golden Receiver, Life is Beautiful, Skakespeare in Love, Amelie, Chicago, The Hours, The Aviator, Tsotsi, The Queen, Gone Baby Gone, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, There Will Be Blood, The King’s Speech, and the latest and the 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist.

If you’ve curious to read for yourself the Rules and Eligibility for the Academy Awards, it’s not a bad read.  Here’s a link:

The Super Bowl – The Commercials

February 5th, 2012

The Super Bowl is the premier sporting event of the year and it draws in a huge and diverse crowd of American shoppers.  Like moths to a light, companies are drawn to NBC on Super Bowl Sunday for these shoppers, even for the most expensive air time of the entire year.  At an estimated $3million per 30 seconds, a commercial is a huge risk for any company to take.  Whether or not the investment was worth it from a bottom line standpoint is not the business of this web site, but were the commercials entertaining?  Here’s a breakdown of the winners and losers:

It’s easy to start with the best as there was one clear winner, Ferris Bueller…who else?  Many people knew this one was coming as the buzz on the web and Twitter came on real strong from a YouTube teaser earlier, and this spot lived up to the hype.  It’s been 26 years since this movie’s release, but Matthew Broderick didn’t miss a beat in reprising his iconic role as a grown up, skipping work, and driving around his Honda CRV.  The only disappointment around this commercial was that we had to count its run-time in seconds instead of minutes and that it seems this was just an ad after all and not a very clever preview for Ferris 2.

Full version is like visiting an old friend,

And now for the worst.  Bud Light Platinum.  That’s a name for a credit card, not a beer.  And in two separate commercials, Bud told the audience nothing about it’s product.  This was as poorly constructed a set of commercials as I’ve seen with this much at stake.  The audience was really expected to buy into Bud Platinum on the visual tease of a vibrant blue beer bottle.  Forget taste or substance, people should drink this beer because it’s got an intriguing colored bottle.  This is not a strong message, even in the image conscious culture of young beer drinkers.  I anticipate that there will be many, many follow ups to those two Bud Plat commercials, but so many people have tuned out and turned off that this brand has an uphill battle to fight.  Instead of putting the money behind Bud Light, which is the strongest seller in the brand and usually the Super Bowl darling, Budweiser came out swinging with…well, who knows what it is other than its name?

In commercials, the best way to succeed is to either inspire or entertain the audience.  Don’t educate us and don’t scare us, that’s terrible.  Now inspiring commercials don’t usually get as much play as comedic or entertaining commercials, but there were two stars in this category tonight…and one failure.  The two stars were Best Buy Mobile and their phone and app geniuses and the night cap of great commercials, the NBC 24-hour Sports Network spot.  The big ad that didn’t work was voiced by a legend, but it just didn’t work.  Poor Clint Eastwood, didn’t anyone think that a quiet, word-driven commercial wouldn’t play well during a Super Bowl party?  If the audience would have watched this commercial, what they would have seen was a semi-political, preachy, incongruent, discordant, and weird (why does it switch from color to black and white?) ad that tried to win on imagery alone.  This was terrible.

The last subset of commercials to discuss could be lengthy because there were a lot of them, the movie preview commercial.  Big budget action movies come out in full force to a big budget event like the Super Bowl and there was no shortage of previews this year, The Avengers: John  Carter, Battleship, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and then Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  All of these movies  are big budget releases, but they are not at all equals.  Of all these trailers, two big ones stand out above the rest:  The Avengers and Star Wars.  I’m up for a good preview any day, but John Carter will not be profitable, it’s too high-budget for its unrecognizable main character who everybody is going to confuse with John Connor from Terminator until they see him dressed up like Conan the Barbarian.  Battleship is a big stretch as well.  Using a board game to inspire a movie has been done a ton of times, but the nostalgia toy box must be getting pretty thin if Battleship is sailing onto the big screen.  And G.I. Joe 2?  Well…that’s probably all that needs to be said, except that if a bunch of ninjas with swords are hanging from a mountain by ropes and dueling with swords, I don’t know why they just don’t cut the ropes of the bad guys and save us all trouble of watching a totally unnecessary sword fight among a bunch of soldiers with guns.
The Super Bowl itself had an amazing finish, but the football definitely outweighed the poor overall quality of the commercials.  They were only entertaining in the margins and if it wasn’t for the stars mentioned above and a couple of cute Doritos spots to lighten the mood, we would have been left with very little  to cheer and nothing to spend our money on.  One last little ad to put a smile on your face from NBC:  The Olympics are coming!  London 2012, see you there!